Canucks invade U.S. TV
North-of-the-border talent popping up on small screens and behind the scenes
LOS ANGELES — Donald Trump may need to build a wall to keep all the Canadians out of U.S. TV shows. You couldn’t help but notice the snowbird connection at the just-concluded Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles. There seemed to be a Canadian cast member or producer on every panel, including singer Carly Rae Jepsen among the stars of Grease Live (premièring Sunday on CTV and Fox).
The Mission, B.C., native plays Frenchy and grew up watching the original movie with her stepmother.
“We would have the ponytail on the top of our heads and we would dance and sing it out from beginning to end.”
Jepsen even starred in a high school production of Grease.
“It was my first time ever walking in high heels or showing anything ever so scandalous as a black leotard. My father was the principal so he was not too keen on the whole idea.”
Besides Jepsen, there’s a Canadian on ABC’s American Crime: Toronto’s Connor Jessup. Alison Pill ( The Newsroom), also from Toronto, is on ABC’s mid-season drama The Family.
Montreal native Vanessa Lengies ( Glee) returns in the Fox mid-season entry Second Chance. Fellow Montrealer Meagan Rath is in Fox’s new comedy Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life. Kristen Gutoskie, from Markham, Ont., is among the stars of the upcoming CW drama Containment.
Houdini & Doyle, coming to Global and Fox, boasts two executive producers from London, Ont.: David Shore and David Hoselton (both from House). Toronto’s Rebecca Liddiard plays a constable on the series, which was partially shot in Toronto.
Vancouver lads Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are behind Preacher, a dark, comic book-inspired series AMC has high hopes for.
A trip to the set of CBS’s Supergirl in Los Angeles brought word that Toronto’s Laura Vandervoort ( Bitten) was joining the series as Indigo and that Henry Czerny was also guesting as Toyman.
Less surprising, perhaps — given the state of the Canadian dollar — was how many new U.S. shows are being shot north of the border. The X-Files returned to Vancouver for its six new episodes. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, starring Victor Garber, and Lucifer are two comic-book hours shot in B.C.
Two of the stars of NBC’s Superstore are Canadian: Mark McKinney and Lauren Ash. A veteran of both Kids in the Hall and Saturday Night Live, McKinney plays a befuddled big-box store manager.
“I don’t know any comedy writer who wasn’t a huge Kids in the Hall fan,” says Superstore executive producer Justin Spitzer, admitting he “geeked out a bit” at meeting McKinney.
Few would have more of an insider perspective of the border-hopping business of television than McKinney. The 56-year-old Ottawa native shoots Superstore in L.A., where he lives, and flies to Toronto to appear opposite Jay Baruchel and Robin Duke on Man Seeking Woman. The FXX comedy is an American series shot in Canada starring a Canadian.
McKinney’s proud of his Winnipeg-shot series Less Than Kind, where he was a writer/director/producer, as well as the series he helped create with Bob Martin and Susan Coyne, Slings & Arrows.
“We’ve been noodling along a prequel to Slings,” he says. “We’ll see if it gets picked up.”
He’s encouraged by all the production going on across Canada but also has concerns, especially with the consolidation of Canadian media players such as the proposed takeover of Shaw Media by Corus Entertainment.
“You want, as a writer, to think there are eight or nine doors you can go to so you can find the one person who gets your show,” he says. “In that sense, I find it’s getting a little tight.”
On the plus side, he does feel that the new federal government “at least will be a cheerleader of the arts and not just assume we’re all a bunch of lefties who hate their party.”
McKinney also questions why Canadian private networks, faced with global competition from streaming services such as Netflix, aren’t more in the content game.
“I can’t think of a more missed opportunity,” he says, looking around the crowded NBC press tour party. “If you assembled all the Canadian talent that are probably in this room here in Los Angeles, and Toronto and Vancouver and elsewhere, and put them all together you’d probably go, ‘Why isn’t (the number of Canadian-made TV shows) bigger?’ It should be.”